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Daniel J. Treier


I Feel Your Pain

But who am I, anyway?

We live in a world acutely sensitive to difference, but also blindly insensitive to forced sameness. Myriad choices proliferate, but many people do not have much choice about which choices to make, about whether or not to be bombarded with advertising while driving to the supermarket. The contemporary world's most stable selves would seem to be those non-Westerners or marginalized Westerners who lack the means to destabilize their identities—although they increasingly face such instability anyway, at the hands of the new colonization we call "global capitalism." Such postmodern peculiarities are the context for A Theology of Compassion by Oliver Davies, who was appointed to replace the late (and much beloved) Colin Gunton as Professor of Christian Doctrine at King's College London. Since its publication in Britain in 2001, followed by a U.S. edition in 2003, Davies' book has generated considerable attention, dealing as it does with this question of our age: Can I really feel another's pain—especially if I cannot even identify who "I" am?

Davies' work is perhaps abnormally ambitious. Within part 1, "The Metaphysics of Compassion," he appropriates phenomenology as he seeks to reaffirm traditional Christian commitment to the necessity of metaphysics. At the same time, he also seeks to reform ontology in light of narrative categories oriented to compassion and thus kenosis (self-emptying, referred to in Phil. 2:6–11). Part 2, "A Theology of Compassion," proceeds to specify the content of such a "kenotic ontology" based on compassion defined by Christian doctrine, especially in light of the Triune God's Incarnation in Jesus Christ.

The project ranges from challenges in contemporary (often "postmodern") Continental philosophy to the information consumerism fostered by media to the stubborn reality of the Holocaust:

We are left therefore with a sense that Auschwitz is not an alien phenomenon imposed upon European history by a rogue state at an exceptional historical ...

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